Statistics regarding the state of our collective mental health over the last two years are disheartening:
- Of American adults, 19.86% are experiencing a mental illness. That’s equivalent to nearly 50 million Americans.
- Over 27 million experiencing a mental illness are going untreated.
- Over 2.5 million youth in the US have severe depression, with multiracial youth at the greatest risk.
Undoubtedly, stress, anxiety, and depression are influential factors in society. Anxiety’s presence, in particular, makes sense as many have encountered a plethora of challenges during the pandemic.
These issues include working from home, trying to find scarce childcare or declining resources, and unexpectedly losing loved ones. Each challenge is a result of COVID-19 and a plausible contributor to our increased anxiety.
But that doesn’t include the challenge of encountering the virus itself.
How anxiety affects getting Covid
One issue that makes getting Covid so daunting is that it affects each person differently. One person may be sick for a few days and be fine. But another person of a similar age may end up in the ICU and possibly lose their life. Such a widespread, unknown outcome could cause people to be more anxious at even the thought of getting COVID-19.
Research suggests that becoming infected with Covid may have bigger implications than life becoming unpleasant. According to the CDC, health complications can affect a person’s response to the virus.
But one complication in their list has allured much interest: mental health conditions, such as anxiety, can cause immune systems to be more susceptible to the coronavirus.
Is this true? Do stress and anxiety hinder our response to Covid?
Further research suggests this is the case.
Advances in research on the central nervous system and its relation to the immune system have removed doubt that the two systems are connected. They work together, and our central nervous system can influence our immune system’s ability to respond to an illness.
We know that anxiety leads to stress. Dr. Saul McLeod asserts that “when we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced.” Subsequently, we could conclude that the stress brought on by the pandemic could have impacted peoples’ ability to fight the antigens within the coronavirus.
Research in the journal Neurobiology of Stress has found that stress and anxiety are pathogenic, which means they can cause disease and hinder the immune system’s ability to fight an infection.
It appears that stress and anxiety can have an effect on people’s ability to fight diseases, including COVID-19. Moreover, since stress and anxiety are an immediate problem in society, we could surmise that decreasing stress and anxiety could lead to a better response to the virus.
Tips for defeating anxiety
Thankfully, there is also little doubt that such stress and anxiety can be combated. The previously cited article proposes a commonsense solution: relaxation, which can therefore lead to a stronger immune system.
The first suggestion for helping the body to relax is to consult your personal physician for advice and resources to combat anxiety. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, there are some practical habits we can apply to daily life which might help.
- “Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.”
- “Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.”
- “Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.”
- “Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.”
- “Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.”
- “Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.”
For severe anxiety, also consider seeing a professional biblical counselor.
Rejuvenation through God’s living word
Freedom from stress and anxiety can also be found through some biblical applications. One of the more well-known verses in the Bible on anxiety is found in Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7 NIV).
Paul’s suggestion for those struggling with anxiety is that they flee from it by bringing their anxiety to God in prayer. He then assures the reader that God’s transcending peace will not only be given to the one who prays, but it will also guard their heart and mind.
In the next verse (which might often be overlooked), Paul leaves the reader with something to practice as they wait on this peace: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
Focusing on these is critical when encountering anxiety. The mind is powerful, and it will run away with thoughts, whether positive or negative, true or false. So, why not give the mind thoughts that can lead the believer to embrace truth and peace?
Paul even supports this idea in 2 Corinthians 10:5 when he suggests that “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV). Someone struggling with anxiety may then benefit from focusing on what is certain and helpful in the present.
As we continue to wrestle with the possibility of contracting COVID and other diseases in life, we should remember this: God may provide peace that can help protect our immune system and has given our minds the power to dwell on present truth rather than surrender to our fears of tomorrow.